Here’s What Game Developers Think Of Steam Greenlight’s $100 Fee

Here’s What Game Developers Think Of Steam Greenlight’s $100 Fee

The introduction of a $US100 fee (or donation, considering the proceeds go to Child’s Play) for developers to get themselves onto Steam Greenlight gave rise to two arguments. One side believes that games development is a business and if one can afford to create games, you should have the funds to spend on marketing. The other argument posits that $US100 is a lot of money and low-profile indie developers shouldn’t have to pony this up for the mere chance to make it onto Steam.

Yesterday, in the her article You Shouldn’t Have To Be Rich Or Middle Class To Make Video Games, Patricia Hernandez claimed that “most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $US100 dollars is a month’s worth of food”. She felt many of the responses online to the fee were “highly classist”; apparently, people either couldn’t understand why $US100 was a lot of money, or, why an indie developer looking to get on Steam and, therefore, sell a product, couldn’t find $US100 in their budget to put towards getting on arguably the largest digital distribution system for games.

While I understood the point the article was trying to make, I don’t think it considered that Steam Greenlight isn’t Kickstarter. Getting on Steam means getting your game in front of a massive audience so they can buy it, not fund it. My impression of Greenlight is that it’s for developers who are serious about development and working towards making it a career. This is a very different situation to the hobbyist developer after a bit of publicity.

After reading Hernandez’s piece, I went looking for opinions on Greenlight from the bigger indie developers and I came across an artice on Ars Technica. The outlet approached a number of devs to get their opinion on the gating fee. A fair point made in the Ars story is that the fee is similar to Apple and Microsoft’s $US99 payments to develop for their respective proprietary platforms — and that’s not factoring in the cost of getting iPads, iPhones and other test devices, at least in the case of Apple.

Here’s what Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games had to say:

“$100 might not seem like a lot to someone in the US, but in some countries that could be a substantial amount of money for an indie developer … I think a smaller fee would probably be a good idea… say a $US30 fee to start an account would be enough to keep most of the non-game garbage off the service while being less of a drain on actual developers.”

Boyd goes on to say that developer serious about being legitimate would “find a way” to pay the fee. Ars also talked with Jonathan Blow, best known for Braid:

“If someone is able to do that much work [making a game], it’s hard for me to think they can’t come up with $US100. Maybe you can think of some extreme case of someone in the developing world who is using a computer they got for free or something, but I think if you show someone like a publisher, Indie Fund, or a site like Kickstarter a strong game, it is pretty easy to get $US100.”

The consensus is that while these devs sympathise with less successful indies trying to make a name for themselves, if you’re working to make your livelihood out of games development, then you’ll do whatever needs to be done to break into the market… and that sometimes involves paying for things.

Personally, as a developer looking to get to be on Greenlight (once the Classification Board sorts itself out) — one that approached it as a business and not a hobby — I couldn’t care less about the $US100 fee. What bugs me is how shambolic Greenlight is, especially considering the people behind it.

Sure, Valve would have been lucky to get it perfect on day one, but making as sweeping a change as a pay-for gating mechanism so soon after its introduction does not inspire confidence.

On the other hand, in terms of reducing the current signal-to-noise ratio on Greenlight, the solution is immediate, effective and simple to implement. Perhaps Value will introduce other, free ways to get onto the service, now that it’s bought itself some time to consider such options.

A $100 lottery ticket: Indies discuss Steam Greenlight’s new fee [Ars Technica]


  • “say a $US30 fee to start an account would be enough to keep most of the non-game garbage off the service while being less of a drain on actual developers.”

    So people who are poor are bad developers are they? What a tool

    • I think you’re missing the point, he was referring to stopping people spamming the service with junk/joke products, rather than people unable to afford the $30 fee.

      • They should scale the fee with the CPI, GNP, or some other such metric of the submitter’s region, lower it, and start an investor/contributer system.

        • It doesn’t even need to be a fee: the best suggestion I’ve heard is to require a playable demo and get the developer to print off a QR code and post it to Valve in the mail.

          Not many pranksters are going to wait two weeks for their fake game to turn up on Greenlight.

    • Holy crap some of you people are really misinformed. Just think logically here for a minute – under what sort of strange, rare set of circumstances where someone can afford even the TOOLS to create a video game (computers, software, licenses, internet connection, electricity, coffee/energy drinks) where they can’t pony up 100 bucks to get their game on the largest digital distribution platform on the planet?

      People complaining about this minimal entry fee need a reality check. You’re potentially getting an enormous amount of value out of that 100 dollars, especially if you are serious about selling a game. Otherwise just put it on your website or bit-torrent.

      • Most development tools are free. You can write a game in Flash, C#, C++ and Lua without spending one cent. If you want to pay for something more expensive, that’s your call.

        From here, your argument pretty much falls apart. If a developer is using a hand-me-down computer when their parents upgraded, they’re not spending any money they wouldn’t otherwise spend if they weren’t making video games. And in that case, it’s easy to imagine $100 being a very large barrier indeed.

        • Then if they have a hand me down computer, then should they really be getting into game development? It’s not something you learn on the fly, it takes a lot of time, and if you can’t afford $100 to sell you game on the biggest distrubiton service ever (you can still sell it on your own site!) then you’re in the wrong business.

          • So you’re saying because they can’t afford a computer and happen to get one for free that they shouldn’t even think about trying to create a game?
            Also, that fee doesn’t guarantee that the game will even be sold, just that some people MIGHT see it and MIGHT vote for it.

      • The Edge in Brisbane. Free access to computers and dev tools, as well as other devs who can assist. You could do it all without spending a cent. And I know people who do.

    • What? That’s not what he’s saying at all.

      He’s proposing a small fee to ensure that the people who do register/submit games are actually serious about it, instead of all the “Half Life 3” joke submissions.

      This is exactly what Valve have implemented here. The problem he has is that it’s actually too expensive for his tastes. He feels it excludes less wealth developers.

      Now, I really don’t think that’s the case at all. $100 US isn’t that much money, no matter where you’re from. If you can afford a computer to develop a game on, you can afford $100 to have your game listed in a marketplace. If you really can’t afford that submission price, there’s other avenues to obtain further funding, such as Kickstarter.

  • I don’t get greenlight, I get that steam is a good place to have a finished game but so many of them on greenlight are concept only, it doesn’t matter if a million people like your game and want it on steam when it’s finished if you only have concept art now. It’s not set up to recruit talent or solicit donations either. Perhaps valve should have only allowed finished games that were submitted for steam inclusion anyway.

  • i say make teh 100 dollars a deposit, so that if the game is rejected by the community, or valve decides to not greenlight it, you get your money back. but if the game is greenlight or is taken down for breaking terms and conditions (I.E a joke post or porn) tehen the money is donated to charity, therefore these “poor” developers can get there money back if they aren’t succesful, but if they are, they will get mor money back when they launch on steam.

    • The issue is that wouldn’t solve the problem the 100 few was added to address. Namely the fact that you could spam the system with different concepts and then hope you might be able to deliver that or the fact that people were listing games they didn’t have the right to list.

      The $100 fee shouldnt be an issue for anyone with a game already in the canon they were going to release it anyway likely through their own website. Which would have had its own costs.

      The real problem is that the greenlight system is poorly done there should be no down vote button simply yes or next. It doesn’t matter if 100,000 people hate your game if 10,000 people do and are willing to pay for it

  • Its 100 bucks, it really isn’t that much… Don’t spend money on games for a week or two and bam you have a hundred to throw down.

    It is also going to charity so they can just claim it back on tax.

    • Only if the payment goes directly to child’s play. If the money is routed through steam they can’t claim anything. Since it’s steam making the donation

      • They can’t claim it as a donation to charity but it can still be claimed as a business expense, at least here in oz it can.

  • Good article, and I agree.

    Looking forward to Zafehouse. Just use the almighty power of kotaku australia to get it upvoted :p

  • @Raptor1001
    Perhaps greenlight should start working with kickstarter.
    Might actually help developers get their games up and running.

    • One of the reasons kickstarter has so many videogame proposals is because it’s easy to use the reward tiers as a simple pre-order system for the game, including backer specific DLC. The issue valve would have is that if ten thousand people kickstart a game and get a backer copy, that is 10,000 sales that valve won’t get. Then, depending on how niche the product is, those backers might represent say 75% of the people who would actually buy the game off steam if that was their first exposure to it.
      So from a single game perspective Valve benefits from games not being crowd funded to allow steam to capture as many sales as possible.
      However given that steam acts mostly acts as a middleman the above argument can be countered that by encouraging more games to be made steam will still benefit from having a larger catalogue of games and that any sales are still profitable.
      I’d like to see an article from valve’s economist on how they view potential versus actual sales but I imagine they don’t want to let people see their numbers.

  • If your economic situation is at the point where you will starve if you lose 100 dollars, why the hell are you making indie games? Divert all your time and resources to trying to get a reliable source of money instead of gambling it all on some stupid game.

  • Ok so if you’re a small developer, how much are you going to sell your game for? $2?
    I don’t think I’ve seen non-sale indy games on steam for less than $2.
    Which means you only need to sell 50 copies to make back the $100.
    Actually valve and paypal probably take a cut so lets say 100 copies.
    That is NOTHING on a massive distribution platform such as Steam.
    $100 is a pretty tiny investment for a developer/business. At the end of the day, that’s all it is, it’s an investment (and the money goes to charity too).

    The only other way to handle this imo is for Valve to verify the “developer” status for anyone posting on greenlight. Although this would take a lot of extra man hours.

  • So some are wanting Steam Greenlight to be flooded with crap and spam so those who really are developing don’t get noticed?

    It’s not like it’s $500 or $1,000. It’s $100 FFS. You’d have to be a pretty dedicated troll to waste $100 on a fake Greenlight listing.

    So I say keep it. Those dedicated enough to their game development, and hence to the community that will eventually support them, are more than willing to pony up $100.

  • ou guys should stop pretending to fully understand other people’s situations, you can easily afford $100? Congratulations. Jerks.

    • Thank you for sharing your feelings of self-entitlement.

      Have you thought that, if developers are truly dedicated to putting their game out, that finding a part-time job for a few hours a week would make the $100 more than affordable? Do you think everyone that has, for example, gone to university to obtain a chemical engineering degree hasn’t also been employed in a menial job to fulfil their careers?

      • Missing the point, you can’t know everyone else’s situation, some people have responsibilities, families to look after, debts to pay, all sorts of things maybe they already have a part-time job, maybe they have a full-time job, maybe even two, and perhaps that barely even covers their bills.
        I’m not arguing that I believe that it’s every indie devs right to be on steam, I’m just sick of seeing comments about $100 not being all that much etc.

        • @Neon Jackal

          I get the arguement that people shouldn’t speculate on other people’s circumstances, but you have to admit, the cost/benefit here is pretty good. $100 dollars potentially exposes you to millions of active Steam users.

          Now lets say that the game sells for $5, steam takes 50% (I am just guessing here, no idea on their cut), thats $2.50 a copy back into the sellers pocket. Thats 40 copies that someone has to sell to break even…… 40 copies on a platform which has millions of active users.

          Just think of it as advertising of your product. Believe me when I say that $100 to be shown on Greenlight is scores better than trying to get into various other advertising media.

          Someone who is dedicated enough to try and reach for Steam for the massive amount of exposure it gives is going to be able to find a way to finance that $100, wether it be saving every cent they can, taking a few extra hours at work or even asking a mate for a quick loan.

          Unless we are in Africa or certain parts of Asia where $100 can go a hell of a lot further than in the West….

        • Surely if you go into it with a decent product and a bit of a business plan you shouldn’t have any problems getting a loan for the $100.

  • To be fair, if a small developer can’t afford the $100 distribution, god knows how they were going to distribute it in the first place with the price of servers etc.

  • Man, these discussions are worthless if whenever someone tries to explain the necessity of certain measures, some people will reflexively cover their ears and shut their eyes while chanting “you stupid rich white person, your privilege cannot let you see the plight of poorer people!”

    Funniest thing is that most people with the time and conceit to spend their time posting such comments in the Internet are not really the ones they think they are representing. That people is out there actually breaking their backs and have much more problems that to sit and consider how bad is that they are being charged to market their product. hell, most of that people have enough in their plate already to not be able to sit down in front of a computer to program a game.

    In fact, several of the people posting such comments are the ones that invested a couple afternoons in some “game” and think they are entitled to a place in the market without having to go out there and work a weekend or two distributing fliers or anything to raise a bit of money to pay for it because such labours would contaminate their “artistic integrity”.

  • I just checked the valve business site and apparently greenlight is the only way to get your game on steam now but at the same time I just checked the first 15 pages of games and didn’t see a single AAA game listed so it looks like valve have set up a nice two tier system (Is GTA5 gonna go through greenlight? ).
    Also bear in mind that with this many games listed the developers will still be under a lot of pressure to market the hell out of their product themselves to get the greenlight approval at which point they still won’t have had any discussions with valve regarding revenue splits and integration requirements.
    To me it seems like valve thought internally reviewing games was just too hard and said “hey let’s open the floodgates, let the community handle all the hard work reviewing alpha demos on personal websites and such, then we’ll swoop in at the end and take our cut”.

    • My understanding is that Greenlight is for indie developers wanting to break into a market previously closed to them.

      Games such as GTA5, and hence Rockstar, will still be at the mercy of larger publishers. They answer to them – Greenlight devs answer to the community.

  • Steam initally made it free, correct? What did people do? Offer junk and 9/11 sims. A fee large enough to deter idiots but smal enough to be affordable seems entirely reasonable. Valve isn’t pocketing the money, it’s going to a charity.

    Valve isn’t a charity service, they’re offering an opportunity to devs, a rather fantastic one in my opinion. Instead of people taking advantage of it they’re whining about the entry fee. No matter what price-tag they put on this, people would complain.

  • The argument between whether the $100 barrier is too high for indie developers, really comes down to whether an indie developer budgets according.

    The fact of the matter is, if there is an $100 price barrier, it becomes a necessary development cost if you want to use that platform to sell your game. If it cost you x amount of cash to make this game, you need to have at least x amount of cash to enable the sales of that game, and if it’s less than $100 you might want to reconsider your balance or finding alternate routes to get funding. Proper planning to anticipate and set money aside in a development cycle to reach $100 seems very reasonable.

    Don’t complain about whether $100 is too expensive because if it is, you’re just gonna have to find another route to sell your game. Valve can’t support every developer and in the case of large business, there’s going to be places where blanket rules are simply another hurdle on your marketing road.

    And no matter what anyone says, the cases you speak of where $100 is too much, is beyond minuscule to the amount of indie developers who can afford $100. Don’t blow this whole thing out of proportion, you’re just playing a game of what-ifs.

  • I see a business opportunity here, and since I can’t be arsed to do it myself I’m giving it away for free.

    Set up a website to crowdfund the $100 Greenlight fee. Flat rate of 50c. When a project reaches a set number of backers – say 400 backers ($200), it automatically stops collecting funds, Website owner pays the project’s $100 greenlight fee directly to avoid scammers, and keeps the other $100 for expenses and profit.

    Devs could use this process to collect feedback on projects before going to Greenlight, helping them present the best possible project when it does go to Greenlight.

    If anyone goes ahead with this, it’s yours for free.
    But I’d be willing to accept a slab as a sign of appreciation 😉

    • I should point out that this comment was entirely tongue in cheek 😛

      There can’t possibly be enough indie games projects that would attract 200 backers (just for the right to vote for a game on Greenlight) to even pay the server fees of hosting such a site.

      Still willing to accept a slab if anyone decides to run with it though!

  • The $100 fee works well for weeding out not only the joke/spam entries but also those who are not serious about their product. One idea though would be to make the submission fee be a sort of two-for-one deal, where developers who pays the fee could each sponsor one developer who legitimately cannot afford it.
    We have been working on our game, Signal Ops, for over two years now. We were lucky to get in before the fee came into effect, but we would have gladly paid for the opportunity to gain a larger audience for something we have put so much work into. It is a tactical espionage game with co-op support and a crazy interface that lets you see multiple first-person views at the same time. If that sounds interesting, you can check it out here:

  • Also, another angle, is that a many indie developers already have a fanbase prior to Greenlight.. so if they are genuinely having trouble, all they would need to do is ask their fan-base to become founders/investors.. give them a perk or name in the credits for their donation and pay the listing fee.. simple really.

  • I think it’s a great idea. Definitely weeds out the good vs spam for the most part.

    It stopped me from posting the small games I’ve worked on, which I may have further developed if some people would have liked to play them.

    As a developer, Steam is seriously the Mecca to have a game published on.
    Can’t wait to work on something worthy, of the $100 🙂

    Awesome they are donating the proceeds of the submission fee to charity.
    Makes me want to hug Gabe , if I didn’t want to already 🙂


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